VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – The sports locker room code goes like this: “What you see, hear and say here, stays here.”
Recently, this time-honored oath of secrecy — especially the pro variety — has come under intense scrutiny because of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin NFL bullying fiasco.
Miami’s Martin, in going public over his alleged harassment, has been excoriated by many for violating the zip-it dictum.
MAS knows all about the clubhouse sanctity thing.
In his second career — writing about and announcing sports — he has seen it actually posted in many changing rooms.
Apparently some athletes need to be formally educated — or reminded.
And before that, for 14 years as a jock, he adhered to that rule. And then, as a head high school football coach, he ENFORCED the same rule.
Here for the first time OUTSIDE our Darby-Colwyn (Pennsylvania) High locker room is what happened that led me to employ that three monkeys code.
One year at our summer football camp in the cool Pocono Mountains, far from sweltering suburban Philadelphia, I found out some members of my D-C team had been drinking beer in their cabins one night.
I then went into full policeman/judge and jury mode.
Pre-MAS first administered his own breathalyzer test. One by one, I had every player breathe directly into my face.
Then, if his huff smelled of alcohol, he was immediately adjudicated, as in: “You’re gone.”
I booted eight guys off the team; all were to be sent home the next morning.
Afterward, our team leaders begged me to just run the imbibers’ tails off as punishment and give them a second chance.
Because the eight were actually good kids who had just done a stupid thing (modern teens — sigh), I agreed. But I told the squad in no uncertain terms: if this ever gets out, I would HAVE to kick them off.
This has always been OUR secret. Until now.
Many folks came down hard on Martin because he failed to similarly resolve HIS problem in house.
If you have just come out of a coma, a month ago Martin left the Dolphins claiming he had been tormented by Incognito in various ways — from racial slurs and other insults to being forced to pony up $15,000 for a Vegas offensive linemen-bonding trip that Martin never attended.
All the pertinent info from those involved in the situation is still trickling in.
Everyone’s official side of the story won’t be known until an independent investigator, hired by the NFL to sort the sordid mess out, releases his findings in a few weeks.
Until then, it seems to MAS that all involved are just scrambling to cover their ass . . . ets.
Incognito, considered by many neutrals to be an overbearing lout, insists he got as good as he gave from Martin in the harassment department. Incognito claimed it was just part of “football culture.”
His Dolphin teammates circled the wagons and said it wasn’t all THAT bad. Richie was like an older brother to Martin, they claim.
The Dolphins administrators and coaching staff insisted, “Gee we never knew there were problems ’til Jonathan left the team.”
(But sources say a Dolphins line coach with a military background had instructed Incognito to toughen up Martin, reportedly a sensitive, intellectual type.)
For its part, the NFL — in a likely attempt to avoid another big legal hit (see $765 million concussion payout) — took a politically correct anti-bullying stance and launched its investigation.
Martin has said little since leaving the team.
That’s where we now stand.
Meanwhile, Incognito has become the poster boy for one of American society’s hot button issues: bullying.
And Martin has been made out, by some, to be a wuss who ratted out his teammates.
Here’s MAS’ take on his whistle-blowing.
If Martin did NOT try to first address things through proper channels, then he was wrong. It IS best to handle things internally.
As with family matters, it’s personal and none of a nosey public bee’s wax.
John and Joan Q are mostly interested in others’ dirty laundry because misery loves company — not out of genuine concern for those involved.
On the other hand, if Martin DID try to have the situation rectified and Dolphin coaches and administration turned a deaf ear, then perhaps he had no other recourse.
Except in self-defense, to go to Fist City is just plain stupid — no matter how macho the sport is.
Fisticuffs rarely resolve issues — in or outside a locker room.
A fed-up MAS once slugged a workplace tormentor. Nothing changed — except the guy looked like a raccoon for two weeks and MAS almost got fired.
So, what’s a fella to do if his bosses are unresponsive?
For now, all we can do is just sit back and watch the increased butt-covering and see how successful it is in warding off punishment — legal or financial — for those involved.
But MAS DOES have a common sense solution to prevent such similar Incognito-Martin messes in the future: forbid all forms of team hazing and teasing (i.e. harassment).
Hazing is a horse-bleep way for the insecure and/or socially maladjusted to exert perverted control in a given situation.
Even so-called “good-natured” teasing too often has at its core, a hurtful point that the teaser is actually trying to make.
Neither serves a beneficial or positive purpose — on a football team or anyplace else.
So why do it?
Players will just have to learn to look elsewhere for “fun.” Like, say, Incognito’s supposed fave — strip clubs.
Some might view such avoidance as an example of the further PC wussifcation of football (see concussion prevention rules).
MAS sees it as the rare example of PC being a good thing.
And if it stands in the way of the elimination of bullying, then dear old locker room code be damned.
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